CARSON, Calif. — Even to the end, Jimmy Conrad remained the same charismatic and affable player that earned him near universal respect from the US soccer community.
There were plenty of jokes, but no tears as the 13-year MLS veteran, called it a career Thursday after stints with the San Jose Earthquakes and Kansas City Wizards and Chivas USA.
“I spoke to people that are close to me, like my family, but mainly it was the doctors and coaches who helped me come to this conclusion,” Conrad said in a press conference. “They informed me that it was probably in my best interest to retire after six documented concussions.”
Added by the Rojiblancos via the Re-Entry Draft before the start of the season, Conrad had been out of action since suffering a concussion on March 26 in Chivas USA’s match against the Colorado Rapids. The 34-year-old had been cleared to play since May and had been listed as doubtful on the injury report as of late, but was never able to fully deal with the headaches and health concerns caused by the injury.
“The doctors couldn’t tell me what was going to happen if I suffered another [concussion], what the long-term damage would be,” Conrad explained. “I still have symptoms. I still have a headache that comes and goes. They basically said that [retiring] is probably what I should do. I’ve had a good career, and a lot to be proud of, so I think this is probably in my best interest to shut it down.”
Citing those long-term concerns, Conrad felt that it was necessary to leave the game on his terms. In his final press conference as a player, the veteran reflected on what his legacy might be.
“A story of determination and as someone who decided what he wanted to do early on, and I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me that I couldn’t do it,” Conrad said. “I heard a lot of no’s, that I wasn’t good enough or that I was slow, which still follows me around. But here I am, 13 years later, with a lot of awesome accomplishments.”
Conrad leaves the game as one of the most celebrated American defenders of all time, with five All-Star appearances as well as a Defender of the Year award in 2005. To go with an accomplished career in MLS, Conrad enjoyed international success playing in the 2006 World Cup for the United States, an experience he described as “amazing” and an “incredible honor.”
Perhaps one of his greatest achievements, though, is his ability to instill his iconic spirit of determination in those around him, especially in the young players, taking them under his wing to provide them with veteran guidance. For one, defender Heath Pearce has praised Conrad for his advice, which helped the left back transition into an All-Star-caliber center back.
Thus, it was fitting that after the support Conrad provided to those around him, many members of Chivas USA sat in on his final farewell as a player. Following the conference, each player — many still dressed in their training gear from the day’s practice — had their own messages for the MLS veteran.
"It is a testament as to where this team is and the direction that we are going, we really do look at this as a family,” head coach Robin Fraser said. “Everyone knows that this is an important moment for Jimmy, and an important moment for him is an important moment for all of us. This is a celebration of Jimmy’s career.”
Although Conrad’s career on the pitch has seen its final day, he won’t stray far from soccer. During the press conference, he announced his intention to be involved with the Chivas USA Academy.
Conrad’s focus will be centered on the development of the club’s youth program, which has just undergone a recent reconfiguration, and on making “sure that our academy is the best in the country.”
“I take a great deal of pride in brainwashing America’s youth,” Conrad quipped. “If we can create kids that have an understanding of what it takes, I’m sure there will be a lot more talented kids along the way [that can give more] than what I had to offer. There are a lot of subtleties about the game that I can pass on. … My main goal is that we’re creating kids ready to be professionals.”
Although Conrad will join the Chivas USA staff, he admits that he is still leaving his options open for other opportunities, including broadcasting. He said he has already had preliminary discussions with NBC Sports, ESPN and FOX Soccer about potentially joining the booth.
No matter where his new road takes him, one thing’s for sure: Conrad will approach it the same way he’s approached everything on the field.
“I have a lot to be proud of,” Conrad added. “I’m going to take that mindset and attitude – because I don’t know any different – to whatever I do next.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @adamserrano